This is a film adaptation of another Jules Verne story I've never read, made by Disney in 1962. The lead character is a young Hayley Mills as Mary Grant, whose father, Captain Grant, has been lost at sea for some time at the start of the movie.
With the help of fast-talking, shark-fishing Professor Jacques Paganel (Maurice Chevalier), Mary and her brother convince shipping magnate Lord Glenarvan (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and his son that it's worth following up the message in a bottle that was extracted from a shark. Apparently they've been inundated with bottles containing messages ever since they offered a reward for information.
I hope you're keeping up as we go into the spoiler section...
Perhaps it will give a flavour of this film if I tell you that the adventure begins with a trek into the Andes, where the party are abandoned by their native guides. It turns out that the locals are afraid of earthquakes, and on cue that evening an earthquake destroys the ancient stone hut they are sheltering in. Stepping outside just before it disintegrates around their ears, they are just in time to fall off the mountain on the colossal overhang outside the hut. Falling to the snow below, it becomes an outsize toboggan, skating past perilous precipi*, over a snow-bridge that collapses as it passes, and then through the water-cut passages beneath a glacier. En route, the massive boulder splits in two - with part of the party on each half, of course - and dangerous manoeuvring ensues, ending with both lumps crashing in exciting but ultimately fairly safe manners. Well, if safe includes danger of suffocation for Mary, who is buried head first, and high-speed impact for her brother, who unfortunately misses the ground at point-blank range and carries on over one of those precipuses* I mentioned earlier. Good news: he's saved by a condor. Bad news: it wants him for the kiddies' lunch. Good news: it's shot by a mysterious third party. Bad news: it's quite high at the time. Good news: the mysterious native with a gun happens to be an expert in condor anatomy as well as marksmanship, and shot it in the head so it would glide down, rather than the heart, which would have made it plummet. (Did I mention it was tosh? But at this stage who cares!)
The native knows that there are three ship-wrecked sailors being held in a village a few days across the plain, and offers his tribe's help in retrieving them. That night, they are overtaken by a flash-flood, the native escapes with the horses and the rest are left marooned in a tree surrounded by a new lake as far as the eye can see. A jaguar jumps on board from a passing log and eyes them up hungrily, alligators patrol beneath, and lightning strikes, turning the tree into a blazing inferno. An alligator eats their message in a bottle, and the jaguar deftly nicks the raft they built to escape on.
It is shortly after this that they discover they've started off on the wrong continent entirely.
I love the pace and confidence of this film. It's got a running time of only 94 minutes, but it's got more adventure than any Bond film, it's got humour, it's got first love, it's got Maurice Chevalier and Hayley Mills singing (with different degrees of ability but equal charm), it's got earthquakes, floods, storms, precipodes*, dangerous animals, marooning, erupting volcanoes, gun runners, trapeze artistry, exploding ropes and it's got dear old Wilfrid Brambell as a spritely, cackling, wild haired loon - "Now, be I crazy, or be I smart?" - who chews the carpet to excellent effect.
I laughed, I cried (well, to be honest, I laughed some more), I hurled... a cushion in the air in joy. Why isn't this film a recognised classic - of sorts? Every GM should see this film at least once.
* Anyone know what the plural of precipice actually is?